Durkan issues emergency order authorizing PD hiring bonuses, provoking confrontation with Council

Late Friday afternoon, Mayor Durkan issued an emergency order authorizing both SPD and the new Community Safety and Communications Center to create hiring incentive programs that include hiring bonuses of up to $25,000, despite the City Council’s unwillingness to consider reinstating hiring bonuses this past July and signs that it is likely to strip out the $1.09 million Durkan has proposed for SPD hiring bonuses in the 2022 SPD budget.

Durkan issued the directive as an emergency order, leveraging her March 2020 emergency declaration related to the COVID pandemic. That’s a bit of a stretch; the findings in the Civil Emergency Order explain why the staffing crises in SPD and the 911 dispatch unit of the CSCC threaten public safety, but they don’t tie it back to COVID other than to say “the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for timely emergency responses for the City.”

Nevertheless, the order authorizes the CSCC to offer up to $25,000 for a hiring bonus for an experienced “lateral transfer” from another agency’s 911 dispatch center, and up to $10,000 for a new recruit.  Similarly, SPD may also offer up to $25,000 for an experienced lateral hire, and up to $10,000 for a new recruit.  If a hire receives such a bonus upon hiring and subsequently leaves the department, they may not receive another bonus upon rejoining.

The Mayor’s Office issued a press release on Friday, in which the Mayor says, “Seattle cannot keep waiting to address the real public safety officers hiring and retention crisis we are experiencing in Seattle right now.” In the release, both SPD Chief Diaz and CSCC Director Lombard praised the action. However, over the weekend SPOG President Mike Solan issued a highly critical press release of his own, saying that Durkan’s order “misses the mark.”  “[D]angling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done,” the press release argues. Instead, Solan lays the blame for the staffing crisis on city officials, accusing them of “politically betraying their police employees.” He also points the finger at Durkan’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which he says is keeping 100 officers “off the street.”

Under the city’s laws, the City Council may choose between several options in how to respond to the Mayor’s emergency order. It may confirm it, modify it, reject it, or take no action. Taking no action has the same effect as confirming the order, and the Mayor’s order as written is currently in effect and will remain so until either she rescinds it or the Council takes action. There is no specific deadline for the Council to respond, but the governing ordinance says, “The Council shall endeavor to act on any order within 48 hours of its being presented to the Council by the Mayor.” The Council is already scheduled to meet Monday afternoon at 2pm, and it will likely take up the issue first at its Monday morning Council Briefing and give some indication as to what it will do.

In last week’s Budget Committee hearings, Councilmember Herbold sponsored an amendment that would redirect Durkan’s proposed $1.09 million for SPD hiring bonuses in 2022 to keep it in reserve while the city studies the need for a hiring incentive program across all departments; Councilmembers Gonzalez, Lewis and Morales co-sponsored the amendment. Separately, Councilmember Sawant proposed an amendment that would cut the $1.09 entirely. Thus there is strong evidence that at least five Councilmembers are already predisposed against allowing SPD to pay hiring bonuses (though they are not one the record yet about allowing the CSCC to do so for 911 dispatchers).


I hope you found this article valuable. If you did, please take a moment to make a contribution to support my ongoing work. Thanks!